Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spanish Miners Strike Back Against Austerity

Two sets of miners have now been occupying their workplace for a month
Spanish miners are now a month into action against the Popular Party government, and behind them the international banking aristocracy, as they demonstrate against 60% cuts in subsidies, which are expected to result in the loss of 40,000 jobs.

Spain is a social and political powder keg, with record 24% unemployment being exacerbated by austerity measures dictated by representatives of high finance. Even when Franco's political heirs in the PP were brought to power by a collapse in support for the Socialist Workers' Party last autumn, the markets immediately put them on notice that enormous cuts were expected. Just this week, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has agreed terms for a €100 billion bailout, making Spain the fourth country to require this following a banking collapse.

An indefinite mining strike began on 31st May, and two sets of mining crew immediately began a workplace sit-in, in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Over the weeks, there have been many reports of cops charging into pit towns like invading armies, and often being held-off or deterred by the miners' use of improvised rockets and road blocks.

Events described by the Internationalist Communist Tendency reported at the start of the month have proved typical in this regard :
"The day before yesterday (June 6) the Spanish Civil Guard was decisively repulsed and driven back into Ciñera de Gordon, a small town about halfway between Oviedo and Leon. They had arrived in force on Tuesday to clear a roadblock on highway N-630 near the village wedged between the mountains of Asturias, between Oviedo and Leon. But they did not have to wait long for a response from the miners. Taking up their shields once again and supported by the inhabitants of the village, they launched an assault on the Civil Guard which was driven from the town centre. After a heavy crackdown, with mad chases through residential areas and in the surrounding countryside, a veritable manhunt, the bourgeois forces of order finally decided to leave because of the resistance on all sides from, both the motorway to the edges of the town. Their flight was celebrated with a long applause from the local population who thus expressed solidarity with this group of miners, proletarians in struggle."
Miners have set up barricades to defend themselves from the state's forces
At 150 million euros, the subsidy cuts amount to a tiny fraction of the €27 billion slashed from the national budget in April. For this reason, the nightmare plaguing the ruling class is practical solidarity between other workers and the miners. The trade unions have dutifully played their part in trying to isolate the miners' struggle by calling miner-only demos and asking the government to draw up a new 'plan for coal', rather than calling out all workers against all cuts.

Typical of this reactionary reformist approach were the words of General Workers Union general secretary José Angel Fernandez Villa, when he called for a "monitoring committee" to hear new mining industry proposals, and bemoaned the fact the government was "encouraging radicalisation" of the dispute by refusing to hold meaningful talks on the issue.

The trade unions would gratefully grasp the slightest concession, which they would then try to sell as a victory to their memberships. But the government is concerned that this would embolden other workers coming into struggle, and is therefore using force wherever it can to beat - and perhaps eventually starve - the miners into submission.

Like the year-long UK miners strike of the 1980s, this Spanish conflict looks like it could set a pattern for years to come.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Anti-Workfare Activists Blockade A4e Liverpool Communications

At the time of writing, anti-workfare activists on Merseyside and around the UK are mounting a communications blockade on A4e Liverpool.

A4e (Action for Employment) are notorious private sector enablers of the government's plans to force the growing numbers of unemployed into unpaid work, on pain of losing their barely subsistence-level benefits. This is an attack on the entire working class, as it exerts downwards pressure on all wages and working conditions. For this reason, a communications blockade - with the aim of making the administration of workfare unprofitable - is an act of working class self-defence.

Today's action is just one part of a coordinated campaign against workfare. Other events will be publicised on the Liverpool Solidarity Federation website.

Below are contact details for A4e. Use any means necessary to make your point - argument, music, whatever. The main thing is to tie up their communications as much as possible. And spread the word!


Tel: 0151 243 3670

Fax: 0151 236 1991
Send free faxes online via - http://www.freepopfax.com/
From popfax, input number as +44 (leave out 0)

A4e Chief Executive Officer: ADutton@a4e.co.uk
General A4e e-mail: customerservices@a4e.co.uk
Free email - https://www.hushmail.com/

If you use Twitter, also feel free to make your complaints to these accounts:

@OfficialA4e
@a4epress
@LouiseSDuncan Development Director - active
@JoelAWms Wales Development Director for A4e – m-active
@JustineZwerling A4e's international department - secure
@AniaMendrek Operations manager - active
@A4eJoBlundell Group Development Director for A4e - inactive
@Masonic53 A4e Director of Disability Strategy m-active
@AllanAllison Business Developer for A4e - inactive
@ByrneJen Strategic Director - Justice at A4e - inactive
@robharvey Research Manager at A4e active
@JontOC – Director of Strategy & Policy at A4e – v active/will respond

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Greek Government Prepares For Intensified Class War

Antonis Samaras has promised "hope", but will bring despair to all but the rich
Antonis Samaras of the 'centre-right' New Democracy party has been sworn in as Prime Minister of Greece, after he formalised an austerity coalition with 'centre-left' PASOK and the smaller Democratic Left. He vowed to "give hope" to struggling Greeks, but on the contrary, his agenda will deepen the chasmic divides in Greek society, and set the stage for an intense new phase in the class struggle.

In last Sunday's election, held under heavy blackmail from German leader Angela Merkel, France's Francois Hollande and other top representatives of the financial aristocracy, New Democracy won 29.66% of the vote (up 10% on May's vote) as voters fearful of a Euro exit rallied to his banner. The economic and political blackmail was deployed due to the popularity of 'extreme left' party SYRIZA, who had officially rejected the troika memorandum in the election campaign. Alexis Tsipras' grouping increased their percentage from 16 to 27, but fall far behind New Democracy in the new parliament due to the anti-democratic fifty seat bonus the top party automatically receives. It is this which has allowed New Democracy to form a majority coalition, with their inflated 129 seats being added to the 33 of PASOK and the 17 of Democratic Left, to give a total of 179 out of 300 in the assembly.

Technically, Democratic Left were not needed for a pure majority, but the right-wing SYRIZA breakaway will provide some 'left' cover for the horrors to come. Samaras was keen for SYRIZA to also join the attack on the working class, but Tsipras was quick to embrace the role of loyal opposition, and accepted bourgeois formalities as he congratulated Samaras on his 'victory', declaring that "a government should be formed from the core of ND, as it was the will of the people."

As Tsipras is well aware, a New Democracy-led government was not "the will of the people". The party could not even win one third of the vote, on a turnout of 62%. New Democracy therefore won the support of less than one in five of the electorate. Their austerity programme is widely detested, as it promises to drive even more Greeks into poverty and destitution, in a country that already had an official unemployment rate of nearly one in four, and where the value of wages has often been cut by something approaching a half over the last few years. Tsipras knows there is more working class resistance to come, and is settling into his new role as arch confuser of that street and workplace opposition.

An additional 11.7 billion in cuts is next on the austerity agenda, with troika representatives en route to Athens to work out the particulars with their new political puppets. New Democracy have signalled that they intend to lay off 150,000 public sector workers over the next few years. There are also plans to slash taxes for corporations and the wealthy - exploding any suggestion that Greeks are 'all in it together', and proving that the economic crisis is being exploited to restructure economic relations for a generation.

No doubt yet another tranche of cuts will prove 'necessary' when bankers start betting against the country's economy once again. No doubt trade union bureaucrats will call one day strikes here and there, and no doubt Alexis Tsipras will call for the government to 'reconsider' their strategy. But in Greece as around the world - the only way that working class people can overturn the will of the bankers is to directly lay their hands on the levers of economic power, and wield them in their own interests.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Truckers and Sparks - A Tale of Two Struggles

The following article is reposted from The Commune's website. It is the editorial I wrote for the latest issue. The full publication can be downloaded as a PDF here, and paper copies will be available from social centres, radical bookstores, and other locations.

The wildly different trajectories of two recent industrial disputes provides us with an almost perfect lesson in both how they can be won and how they are generally lost. In both cases, the workers were members of the Unite union, as are around three million others in the UK, and in both cases the industry concerned was what might be called a ‘blue collar’ one. But one won, and is winning, while another lost badly.

The ‘threat’ of a one day stoppage by oil haulage drivers gripped the ruling class just over two months ago, when Unite announced that 69% of respondents had voted for strike action over worsening working conditions and pensions raids. The media went into a frenzy of contrived scaremongering, and the government – sensing what a Tory memo called a “Thatcher moment” – went on the attack. Infamously, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told motorists to store “a little bit in the garage as well in a jerrycan”, even though Unite had not named a strike date, and they had to give seven days of notice under the anti-union laws.

Not surprisingly, faced with this ideological onslaught, many car drivers did panic buy, and many stations ran dry, allowing the government to overrule health and safety restrictions on truckers’ driving hours while the pumps were restocked. Meanwhile, Unite bureaucrats pissed away the strike mandate, allowing it to elapse while they held day after day of talks with employers. Eventually, they brought a “deal” back to their membership. According to one trucker: “…the government safety regulators have accepted the need for improved training systems. And the employers have guaranteed they do not intend to break the law. Not exactly groundbreaking.” But systematically demoralised by the leadership, 35% of truckers voted to accept the pittance they’d been given. And on a turnout of just 69%, this gave a narrow majority.
The long-running Sparks dispute has been given considerably less coverage in the corporate news columns, not least because they have been winning by acting outside the control of the Unite bureaucracy, and indeed outside of the law. The rank-and-file electricians formed their own resistance structures last summer, when bosses threatened to cut their pay by around a third under the proposed BESNA contracts. Militant activities including walkouts, the blocking of traffic, and finally the chasing of construction company fat cats around a Park Lane hotel compelled bosses to withdraw BESNA and retreat to further talks with Unite tops.
There’s no doubt the construction companies will seek to renew their attack over the coming months, but for now, the Sparks have succeeded where the truckers failed. And why? Because to a large extent they took their struggle into their own hands, and conducted it in their own interests, instead of allowing the parasitical layer of bureaucrats ‘manage’ the dispute. And the struggle continues.
At the turn of the month, hundreds of electricians walked out of Ratcliffe power station in Nottinghamshire, in a successful wildcat strike over the suspension of health and safety rep Jason Poulter. Against the management claims of “bullying”, Sparks argued that Poulter was being victimised for his prominent role in the BESNA battle.
If the Sparks had followed the instructions of a Unite bureaucracy which branded them “cancerous” in a leaked email, they would have been hit hard in the pocket, and many skilled electricians would no doubt have left the trade. Instead, their morale is high, and they are ready to take solidarity action at short notice. What’s more, they are putting forward their own demands for improvements in the industry, including an increase in the hourly rate, a thirty-five hour week, and an end to blacklisting. The contrast between their situation and that of the truckers could hardly be stronger.
The Sparks have blazed a trail in terms of working class fightback, and this must be deepened and expanded upon, across all industries. Elsewhere in this issue, a member of the University and College Union describes the “disempowering” management of the public sector pensions strike, which has now been almost entirely sold out by the various bureaucracies involved. If those public sector workers – and indeed those in the private sector – are looking for a model of how to resist the austerity squeeze, they need look no further than those rank and file electricians.
Elsewhere in these pages, comrades ask how communists should engage with mass movements such as Occupy, describe the ‘vote Ken’ phenomenon as “a barrier to working class self organisation”, and debate what perspective we should hold on Scottish ‘independence’. There is also a report from and opinion of the first national meeting of the Anti-Capitalist Initiative, as well as articles on worker co-operatives, and the corporate/state nexus in city control.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mauritanian mining strike over - workers win their demands

I was supposed to be blogging about something else today, but events have overtaken me, and I'm feeling too weary now. So here's a repost from LibCom of some (largely) good news for a change!

This time last week libcom reported on striking gold miners in Mauritania - after five days of strike action, the miners have won their demands and returned to work.

The miner's union, the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM) reports that 1,500 workers staged a sit-in at the Tasiast mine during the strike, bringing all production to a halt. This is estimated to have cost Kinross, the Canadian firm who own the mine, around $43,300 per hour.

The miners raised 21 separate demands relating mostly to their poor working conditions, but the unfair dismissal of their colleague Mohamed Vall Ould Merzough after he took time off sick provided the catalyst for the action. Mohamed Vall Ould Merzough has been reinstated, and a committee is now in place to review the cases of all dismissed workers.

The workers have signed an agreement with the company, who have agreed to consider the 50% pay increase demanded by the workers, as well as the provision of full health insurance. The agreement also covers improvements to the on-site clinic and the establishment of a pharmacy, and the provision of mineral water for workers. The miners will also receive bonuses of around 2 months salary every six months.

One of the demands made by striking workers was for "Mauritanization" of recruitment, which the CGTM explains as increasing the number of Mauritanian workers at the site and decreasing the number of expatriate workers - Mauritania has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and mining jobs are highly sought after, with people coming from across Africa to work here. This demand, in amongst a list of otherwise straightforward demands, is obviously very worrying.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

AWOL statement on Paul Cunliffe, a sexual predator within the anarchist movement (Trigger Warning)

The following is a statement from Angry Women Of Liverpool:

For immediate release

We, as survivors, opponents of sexual violence, feminists and/or feminist allies have taken the decision to publicly oppose and name a man within the activist and anarchist community who we know to have repeatedly sexually harassed several young women*. This harassment is known to have taken place in person, via social media and/or by text message.

*All references to women refer to any SI women.

The individual concerned, Paul Cunliffe, of Merseyside, has sexually harassed young women within both the local and UK-wide anarchist and activist movement. This has cause a varied impacts upon their lives, and the lives of other women who are aware of his actions. One woman for example, quit activism due to Cunliffe’s aggression towards her when she rejected his unwanted sexual advances.

Presently we are aware of six different women affected, of the four we have spoken to, two declined to make a public statement- a decision we completely support - with one too fearful for her safety to do so. However another woman did agree to offer a brief description of what happened to her:

“My communications with Paul Cunliffe occurred for several months when I was 17 years old. He first contacted me via the internet, where he began talking to me most days, and most of the time I replied amiably, out of a wish not to offend. After a while speaking online, some of his conversations became inappropriate. I told him at this time that I was not interested in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with him, but he persisted in making sexual jokes, which, as he was ten years older than me, made me feel uncomfortable. He became seemingly obsessed with me, made several comments about us having sex, sent text messages referencing sexual acts, and told me that he had masturbated over me. This was all done when he was in full knowledge that I was not interested in him. I didn’t want to upset him if I would have to see him again, as I knew he was capable of violence, and so I didn’t feel able to tell him outright to stop. He apologised several times for his behaviour, but it continued. Towards the end of our contact he was talking to me every day on social media, and sometimes became annoyed or upset if I ignored him. He was also verbally abusive towards a friend of mine. Our contact ended when he sent me a final message, in which he swore at me and insulted me. I would urge all women to be very careful about getting involved with him – I wish that I never had. Having had time to reflect on the events, if anything similar happened again, I believe I would feel forced to contact the police in concern for my welfare.”


A second woman, Romana, who has waived the anonymity we offered her, has told us the following:

It was December 2011 when I started talking to Paul via DM on Twitter. We’d been interacting since November or October, as I was going through a stressful time with both religion and anarchy which are opposed each other. He was polite, joked around and gave me advice. He is an anarchist who tried to explain things which I found helpful and I could also talk to him about problems at home such as violence which built a trust bond.
I first put a picture of myself on Twitter in December, after which he contacted me and said it was attractive. I said thank you, as at the time I thought he was saying it in a friendly way because he hadn’t made any advances at this point. He asked for my number and I gave it as I trusted him. He then texted me sexual comments. I said I was 16 and he said he had thought I was older and made another sexual comment. At the time I was going through confused feelings and he being someone I looked up to and trusted, I responded initially.
He then started to take sexual comments a bit further at which point I felt uncomfortable but was worried that if I did not respond at least politely that he’d take offence and accuse me publicly of things, as he’d said things about another girl he was involved with that made her out to be a bad person (I later found out that she’d rejected him). I very often would tell him I felt uncomfortable and wanted him not to say things. Quite a few times he texted me along the lines of ‘I’m horny, wondering what you’d do to turn me on’ or ‘I’m so hard right now’ and go on to tell me how he would have intercourse with me.
I started to feel very uncomfortable a few days after and told him I’m wasn’t in a good mental state and I’d like him to stop. He continued. I’d say ‘please stop, seriously…I really want you to stop’ and he’d continue to text sexual things or just ignore me and then on the next day/next few days I would receive a text along the same explicit sexual lines.
At one point I lost my temper and told him to leave me alone and he got very angry, after which I became fearful that he’d spread rumours about me making me out to be a bad person as he had done with two women by this point, so I apologised. We stopped talking for a month or two after but then he suddenly started speaking to me again, apologised for his behaviour and told me about some stuff he was going through for which I gave him some advice.
Towards the end of that correspondence he began to make sexual comments and I ignored him initially but began to feel uncomfortable and in the same position again, I thought he would say that I’d come on to him. As he was friends with James and I have a good friendship with James and I didn’t want him to turn James or any friends in Liverpool against me, I responded, feeling very upset and angry and helpless until he started to mention threesomes. He suggested having a threesome with Anna (Anna is 16) and a 17 year old friend of mine called Holly. He also suggested a threesome with a girl he’d been involved with.
I asked him to stop and said I was incredibly uncomfortable with him degrading other women like this. I eventually talked to Anna about the situation as she mentioned he perved on young women. On the same day Holly told me that he’d made sexual advances and suggested threesomes to her in a dm. She felt very uncomfortable and avoided the comments but he gave up eventually after asking outright if she was sexually interested in him. At this point I became very angry as not only had I found he’d been harassing other young women in Liverpool and talking about women as if they were objects for him to masturbate over, but he’d also been trying to put my friend in the same situation.
The next day I decided to do some research and told a girl he had been spreading nasty rumours about what he had said, and she was very upset and told me she was scared of him as he’d said some aggressively sexual things and she thought he sounded violent at times. I confronted him that day and told him enough was enough and I won’t allow him to put any more women in positions where they feel helpless or uncomfortable – shortly after this he deactivated Twitter and Facebook.
Due to abuse received from misogynists on social media websites regarding this statement, Romana has also written a piece for her own blog which can be found here.
The aims and purpose of this statement are three-fold:

● To ensure that others, particularly women, are aware of his behaviour and thus can make an informed decision about whether they feel comfortable having any kind of relationship with him;
● To ensure the safety of women, within Merseyside in particular, and to allow those who own or take care of places with a ‘safe spaces’ policy to consider whether they should continue to grant him access;
● To encourage political organisations to consider their policy on the safety of their female members and how they can avoid compromising this. We believe that misogyny, sexual aggression and violence is NEVER acceptable and that such consistent harassment shows blatant misogyny and disregard for the oppression that women face under patriarchy. A person cannot class him/herself as “Anarcho-Communist” and then show such misogynist aggression, which is diametrically opposed to the values Anarcho-Communism espouses. 

We ask that women, men and groups share and sign this letter to create a network of support and solidarity for those involved in exposing Cunliffe’s behaviour and to minimise any potential backlash that may be caused by doing so. Perpetrators of harassment, aggression and violence towards women should not be allowed to continue to do so without repercussions and we urge all feminists, feminist allies and organisations who support women’s rights to endorse this statement.

In solidarity,
Angry Women of Liverpool

Signed:
Liverpool Solidarity Federation
Brighton Solidarity Federation
Merseyside Anarchist Federation
Edinburgh Anarchist Federation
Libcom.org collective
Leila Davey (AWOL)
Emma Segar (AWOL, AFed)
Anna Fleur (SolFed)
Liam O’Brien (SolFed)
Claire Elliott (AWOL, AFed)
N. Gatch (AWOL)
Stacey Long
Hannah Ryan (AWOL, Merseyside Women’s Movement)
James Moffatt (SolFed)
Maria Ng (AWOL, News from Nowhere)
Adam Ford (The Commune)
Sean C (Anarchist Federation)
Jane Nolan
Sam Ambreen
Jane Calveley
Natalie Dzerins (Intersect)
Rhiannon Lowton (LRC)
Sam Talley
Sean Mollan (SolFed/Uncut/ACAB)
Jerry Spencer (Anarchist Federation)
Naomi Beecroft (EUSA Women’s Liberation Convenor)
Matt Moore (Anarchist Federation)
Kashka Georgeson (Merseyside LGBT Student’s Network, SWP).
Helen Holmes
Nicky Clark
Romana Begum (All London Anarchist Revolutionary Mob/ALARM)
Sam Rabin (ALARM)
Maev McDaid (President: University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine)
Paul Robinson (Anarchist Federation)
Toivo Hartikainen
Helen Sheridan (AWOL)
Andy Meinke (Editor Freedom Newspaper)
Louise Whittle (LRC)
James Cleveland (Brighton Feminist Collective)
Brendan O’Malley
Nyika S
Al Derby (Wolvo Anarchists)
Jacob Richardson
Anna Machell
Sarah Hickmott
Les Rich (SolFed and IWW IU 560 member)
Jasmine Pike
Pierre Lapin (Job Seeker’s Alliance)
Mark Lees
Takiyah Eshe Daly
Martyn West
Andy Bean
Emily Rice
Sean Court
Alison Banville
Jon Squires
Matt Moran
Omar Sahal
Anna White
Iain Hilton
Phil Dickens (SolFed)
Rob King
Liam O’Donnell

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Workfare Combated In Liverpool

Demonstrators leaving Whitechapel en route to Bold Street
On Saturday, around forty activists responded to a callout by Liverpool Solidarity Federation, and picketed companies profiting from the coalition government's workfare scheme. The demonstrators generally won a sympathetic reaction from the public, and the contribution of local musicians provided a much-needed morale boost as the skies opened.

The term 'workfare' is being used to describe a number of government programmes, and the upshot of them all is that unemployed people are compelled to give away their labour for free - often to extremely profitable corporations - or risk losing their barely subsistence level benefits. This is an attack on all working class people, because it exerts downward pressure on wages, and encourages the replacement of paid jobs with unpaid schemes, contributing to a recessionary spiral of unemployment.

Our first target was health food outlet Holland & Barrett's Whitechapel shop. In spite of its 'ethical' branding, H&B are seeking to augment last year's £44 million pre-tax profits by exploiting free labour. Few crossed our picket line during the hour we were there, with far more taking leaflets and discussing workfare with us. After maybe half an hour a couple of cops appeared, and they talked with the store manager before proceeding to watch from a distance

Activists 'occupied' Argos and Tesco
We then moved on to Argos (£106.9 million profit last year) on Bold Street. Some of us stayed outside with banners, while others went inside to 'occupy' the catalogue spaces. Police joined them, and again our action received lots of public support. At one point, the manager of the shop next door emerged and confronted us, threatening to "tear the banners down". The plod escorted him back inside, so it was clear they had been told to more or less leave us be, and wait for the action to end in its own time.

Our final stop was Tesco, who feel the need not to pay workers despite making £3.9 billion last year. When some of our number went inside, the manager became visibly upset, and asked Liverpool's finest if it would be okay to lock them in! Having presumably been warned that this might be legally dubious, he backed away from that threat. But the Bold Street branch had very few paying customers over the next hour, as again, many more seemed to take note of our demonstration.

It was a successful afternoon's work, but the fight goes on! Liverpool activists are gearing up for a month of actions, in the run-up to the early July national week of action called by the Boycott Welfare conference. If you can't make it to physical pickets, communications blockades are also being planned. Please get involved in any way you can, because an injury to one truly is an injury to all!

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Two Faces Of SYRIZA's Alexis Tsipras

SYRIZA's Alexis Tsipras is playing a high stakes double game
I've written on the economic and political crisis unfolding in Greece many times over the last few years. There's a very good reason for this. Naturally, the lives and living standards of eleven million Greeks are very significant and important in of themselves. But every European country is walking down the same road as Greece - slashing austerity as demanded by bankers, which is followed by a recession, which is followed by more of the same poisonous 'medicine'. Horrible though it is to think of it this way, the Greek experience is being used as a testing ground for the financial aristocracy, and therefore it must also be seen as a testing ground for working class resistance strategies.

Somewhere down this spiral, the 'centrist' (actually right wing) political consensus inevitably fractures and falls away, to be replaced by an increasing political polarisation. In Greece, this has meant the rise of the thuggish Golden Dawn to the fascist right, counterposing a wide variety of 'extreme left' groupings. Chief amongst them is SYRIZA, which won the second highest amount of votes (17%) in the May election, and according to the last official opinion polls before next week's re-vote, was on course to become the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament.

Not surprisingly, this news has sent flutters of anticipation through an international 'left' which is desperate for good news stories. Richard Seymour of the Lenin's Tomb blog neatly summarised the confusion with his post 'The Challenge of SYRIZA':
"Now, judging from online conversations and opinion pieces, a large section of the far left is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The narratives of betrayal are already being readied, the old verities being 'proved' repeatedly. There are many variations, but the core of it is that: 1) Syriza are straightforwardly reformists, notwithstanding the substantial revolutionary fringe - the tail does not wag the dog; 2) reformists are apt to compromise with the forces of capitalism, and as such a sell-out of the working class cannot be long following Syriza's election. In its latest instantiation, this is expressed in the tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20. There it is: the betrayal is already afoot, the reformists already making deals with the bosses.  Perhaps so, but thus far Syriza have not withdrawn from their fundamental commitments, which are: abrogate the Memorandum, and stop austerity measures. They did not do so when there was pressure to do so after the last election, and are not doing so now."
Perhaps the most obvious explanation for Seymour's bet-hedging is that his own Socialist Workers' Party are also - like SYRIZA - left-sounding reformists tied to the reactionary trade union bureaucracy. Though the SWP's Greek affiliates are part of ANTARSYA - SYRIZA's rival 'extreme left' electoral block - there are few differences in principle between the groupings. In fact - as with the opportunist left everywhere (Italy and Germany come to mind) - it is difficult to see what 'principles' they wouldn't sell out for a shot at political power.

There can be no doubt that Tsipras is presenting a programme to the suffering Greek working class which - if implemented in full - would be enormously beneficial to the majority. He pledged to terminate the loan agreements with the so-called "Troika" of banker organisations, and reverse the social cuts imposed on Greek workers over the last few years. This would be paid for by a wealth tax. There would be no further privatisations, and some would be reversed.

If these were the 'transitional demands' of a horizontally-organised, grassroots-based mass working class movement, then they could be achieved, as the workers put their own hands on the levers of power in workplaces and neighbourhoods. But Tsipras and his cohorts are not such an organisation; they form a group of politicians from relatively well-heeled backgrounds, who only make an appeal to the working class to the extent they want their votes. And the programme cannot be put into practice without the working class taking economic and political power for themselves.

SYRIZA's official programme would certainly cut across the interests of the military brass, so you can be sure he's been making very different noises in the meetings he has held with them. After three hours of such talks at the end of May, he emerged pledging to protect and even enhance the fighting capabilities of the armed forces: "Defending the country's territorial integrity and national independence is a non-negotiable priority for SYRIZA", he told reporters.

Tsipras made these comments at a time when the right wing Greek press is openly talking of the military - which has held power in the nation as recently as the 1970s - playing a decisive role in the post-election period. Kathimerini has speculated that should the military decide to withdraw Greece from the euro:
"Over the two days, leaders would have to calm civil unrest while managing a potential sovereign default, planning a new currency, recapitalizing the banks, stemming the outflow of capital and seeking a way to pay bills once the bailout lifeline is cut[...]the country may deploy its military as soon as early morning Saturday and close its borders, preparing to stamp euros as drachma as an interim solution once a public announcement has been made."
In all so-called liberal democracies, the military always has the option of stepping in to protect its own interests, and this often happens in times of crisis. Far from warning workers of this possibility, Tsipras and SYRIZA are touring the offices of the Greek and international rich and powerful, invoking America's Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their offer to save Greek capital from itself. In the aftermath of a SYRIZA victory and a market meltdown, a sell-out would shortly be forthcoming.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Thomas Paine and Emma Goldman on the Diamond Jubilee

Treason to be cheerful
I've tried...oh how hard I've tried...to think of something new and clever to say about the celebrations surrounding Liz Windsor's 'achievement' of staying alive for sixty years, given the best living standards and health care the human species could possibly imagine. But I have failed, so instead I'm redirecting you to people who have said it far, far better, long before I was a twinkle in my parents' eyes.

Thomas Paine described the monarchical system in the most withering terms during the run-up to the American War of Independence. In my 'review' of his extraordinary pamphlet Common Sense last year, I described how:
"Paine then shifted his attention to the absurdity of monarchy as a system of government. After all, "...how a race of man came into the world so exalted above the rest and distinguished like some new species is worth enquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind." Invoking scripture, he declared monarchy "the most prosperous invention the devil ever set on foot for idolatry", and illustrates his beliefs with biblical examples. Then putting religion to one side, Paine asserted that with "all men originally equals, no-one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever". The absurdity wouldn't matter though, if monarchy ensured "a race of good and wise men", but "as it opens the door to the foolish, the wicked and improper, it hath in the nature of oppression." After all, the minds of future monarchs "are early poisoned by importance, and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large." By the time they ascend to the throne, they are "frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions."
In the UK we are still (officially) ruled by the very least of us, and yet the mass media praises them to the skies. That is because 'the royals' are a symbolic basis for a national myth, and that national myth is used to control and subjugate us. As Emma Goldman put it:
"What, then, is patriotism? "Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels," said Dr. Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our times, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment for the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the average workingman."
She went on:
"Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others. The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that, from early infancy, the mind of the child is poisoned with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood, he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner."
But it is not our country. The land, the factories, warehouses and big shops belong to the rich, according to their laws. We must take them back before we can truly claim any ownership of anything.

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